Museum of the Month: February

This year, Mister and I have decided to visit one New York City area museum per month – in an effort to get out and do more, but also to help Mister really feel more a part of the area. This is also a vaguely selfish plan: I have a Master’s in Public History, aka I specialized in museum studies. Museums are my thing, so this is a way to get Mister more into them. Hopefully.  I planned out a schedule of 12 museum/sites, and so far we’ve been two for two.

In January we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a quick stop at the Cloisters on our way home.  This was a huge hit – full suits of armor, incredible artwork, mummies.

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One really important thing to note about *most* NYC museums – the admission fees are “suggested donation amounts.” What that means, is that while it says $25 per person admission, you can still pay $1 and get the same ticket.

February, I kept up the theme of the big classics by choosing the Museum of Natural History.   Not at big of a hit, I’ll be honest. The first floor felt crazy dated, but thats almost part of the appeal of the place in a way. The dinosaurs were pretty cool. But I mean, how many bone displays can you look at with awe? No, maybe just me?

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Of course all the dinosaur spotting paired with the rainy weather made me want a snack before we headed back home.

A quick Yelp search gave us Levain Bakery  , which ended up being on the block between the museum and our car.

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There was no line when we walked in to get cookies, but while we were sitting inside eating them, the line backed up long enough to just about hit the door. Luck was definitely on our side that afternoon.

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We sort of panic ordered – thats where we see a short menu and just yell things out without any discussion. Mister got the walnut chocolate chip, I got the dark chocolate peanut butter.

These are big, [under baked] gooey, bites of cookie goodness. First bite verdict: dark chocolate peanut butter was way better. Last bite verdict: walnut chocolate chip was better. Thankfully we had a bottle of water with us, because that dark chocolate monster was so rich it was almost hard to get down after a few bites.

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I mean, I’m not complaining about either cookie. Trust me, these were both intensely good. If you’re going to share, go for the dark chocolate; otherwise stick with a classic.

We paid $5 per person museum admission, parked for free on the street, and treated ourselves to cookies afterwards.  It was a pretty fun rainy day date for just about $20.  I call that a win.

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New Gym Connundrum

This isn’t about food. I’m sorry in advance if that’s a problem.

The long weekend of New Years Eve started with a visit to a newly opened gym, so see if I could get back in the groove of working out regularly in a gym. This was in part due to the New Year push everyone falls into – partially due to the slump I’ve fallen into recently.

While in Albany, I worked out as regularly as possible at a close-ish, franchised gym that was reasonable priced, had plenty of parking, and had classes. Unfortunately, in Westchester – that sort of gym doesn’t seem to exist. Or at least I havn’t found it yet.

For a while, I was working out at Blink Fitness across the street from my office in the Bronx. This meant leaving for work an hour earlier, showering at the gym and eating breakfast at my desk. It was a routine I actually found that worked pretty well for me but there were some issues; the gym is very small, the weight equipment was always crowded with some intimidating groups (not the friendliest neighborhood), they didn’t have any sort of classes or really enough room to try new things. When Mister moved from Albany to Westchester, we shared a portion of our commute which meant that early mornings weren’t an option anymore and I cancelled my membership.

That was just about a year ago and since then, I have worked with a personal trainer in a private gym regularly, tried Soul Cycle classes sparingly (too expensive), tried one Barre Class (too intimidating), a handful of yoga classes (couldn’t find any that fit my schedule and were within my budget).

Lately, for the most part, I work out in my basement. We invested in a second hand elliptical a few months ago, I have two sets of weights, and a kettlebell. Motivation, and the cold, are my biggest hurdles now. The basement ceiling is too low for the elliptical, so we have to keep it in the garage. The unheated garage.

For reference it was 8 degrees when I woke up this morning. Thats about 30 degrees too cold to be working out in the unheated garage. Thats not to say I don’t do it – but I’m finding a hard time staying consistent.

When I pay for classes, I feel committed to going. But the cost adds up and I lose enthusiasm. For at home, I’ve tried the Beachbody workouts, and on demand – I don’t really have the space in our basement to be jumping around that much and try to stick to strength based workouts.

Suggestions? Great class recommendations? At home workouts worth the money? Motivation?

Oh and yes I did check out that new gym. The traffic getting there from the office, and the traffic getting home, were terrible. Like I would never want to be driving in that direction.

As if that wasn’t enough, all of the amenities advertised weren’t available yet;  i.e. the pool/sauna/steam room level weren’t set to be finished for a few months. But the gym bills itself as having those amenities, and therefore membership is more expensive then the locations that do not have them. Which is absurd to if you can’t use them.

Add to that, it was like trying to work out in a shark tank. The sales team was pushing hard to lock in a deal, and nearly every person working out there was either with a personal trainer, or taking a lot of pictures of themselves while listening to incredibly loud music via headphones. It wasn’t friendly, it wasn’t encouraging – in short I’ll never feel comfortable working out there.

The new gym versus my home gym

 

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week: Harvest on the Hudson

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Having never been to this restaurant in Hastings on Hudson before, I was excited to see if the consistently rave reviews would carry over to their restaurant week offerings.  Upon entering, we were enveloped in the warmth of candles and low lighting.  Though the space itself is massive, with high ceilings and large windows overlooking the Hudson River, it felt warm and cozy with the combination of seating at various levels, warm colors, and low noise level.

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Our table was positioned at the corner of one of the higher floor levels.  We noticed that the seating all seems to be positioned to optimize river views.  This sounds great in theory, but once it got too dark to see out the enormous windows, the arrangement was awkward.  Regardless of that minor issue, the dining room felt like a warm embrace just as the sun was setting, comfortable and inviting.

For appetizers, I went with the Spring Asparagus Vinaigrette, while Mom chose the soup, which was a butternut squash bisque with pumpkin seeds.

The low lighting made taking pictures tricky, so bear with what dishes look like!  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the description, but my starter consisted of thick stalks of tender, chilled asparagus and a creamy dressing. According to the menu, this was soft egg tarragon dressing.  What I loved about this, was that not only was the asparagus cooked to a perfect state of crisp and tender, but that the entire plate was so perfectly seasoned.  The soup, was also balanced in a way that it was decadent while not being too heavy.

My salmon entree was just as excellent in terms of flavor, although execution could have been tweaked just a bit.  The skin, could have been just a bit more crisp, while the fish itself was more than a little over cooked.  I prefer salmon to have the almost silky fatiness when cooked just enough, while this was piece resembled the texture of dry, canned tuna.  This oversight aside, the brown butter combined with capers and golden raisins was perfection in a way that thoroughly compensated for the salmon.

025The service was so efficient, most likely based on the streamlined restaurant week menus, that we were offered the dessert menu just about the same time I finished my first glass of wine (the sauvignon blanc available by the glass, really fresh and crisp).

I had the tiramisu, while Mom went with the semifredo (in all honesty we had to google what the conceptual differences were between panna cotta and semifredo)  They were both the perfect sweetness to finish a really great menu.

We realized, once back in the car, that we had finished our dinner in just about an hour, though we didn’t feel rushed in the slightest.  We were satiated without being stuffed, which is one of my favorite benefits of restaurant week.  Though you are enjoying three courses, they are sized appropriately for the price and experience. I genuinely can say I look forward to trying this restaurant as a special date night in the future, and can’t wait to indulge in the full menu.

Coals, Bronxville

Having seen a few posts for the new pizza restaurant Coals, I was excited to give it a try. Specializing in grilled pizza with fresh toppings, I was expecting a lot of flavor to follow up on the hype.

Mom (my local dinner date of choice) and I stopped in around 6pm on Friday night.  Both the bar area and the restaurant were crowded, with a promised wait of about 10- 15 minutes.  The beer offerings were atypical, and I was excited to try something while we waited.  I asked the waitress for a lighter beer both in flavor and APV, but I can tell I confused her in that she thought I meant low- calorie.  For future reference, is there a better way to phrase this?

I ended up with a pilsner; unfortunately the combination of a loud bar and confused waitress, I’m not sure what the beer actually was to give more information.  It was pretty unremarkable, so you’re not missing too much.

The 10-15 minute wait was definitely an underestimation, though I didn’t keep track of time, we didn’t start eating until after 7. 008.JPG We shared the arugula salad: it was really good, and I was so hungry that I didn’t get a good picture of the full dish! Arugula, grilled pears, walnuts, grana padano, and sherry vinaigrette, $9.00.  My only complaint with the salad, is that I wish it had more of the stuff; you had to sort of hunt for anything other than the dressed arugula (as evident by the plates above!)

Although they are marketed as individual pizzas, we weren’t really sure how big they were; we decided to share the “Pure Bliss” instead of over ordering.  Covered with fresh mozzarella, ricotta, tomato, basil pesto, and pecorino ($16.00), we were sold.  The menu is a little confusing for pizza though, with about 9 options, only one or two seem to have radically different topping than the other.  The rest seem to have the same handful of toppings in a different order, or omitting one or two in comparison to the other options.  Nothing really jumped out as a “must-have” or unique offering.

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Since neither of us had this style of pizza before, or had visited this restaurant previously, we didn’t really know if this was their specialty or the failure of a busy kitchen.  I decided to consult one of the waitresses that had been helping us (sidenote: there were a ton of staff, but no consistency in who was helping which table.  personally, I think this contributed to slow table turnovers).

The waitress took a look at our floppy bites of pizza and confirmed our suspicions, the pizza wasn’t cooked enough and had gotten even more soggy with the topping soaking in to the crust. She was great about getting a new pizza to our table within minutes, profusely apologizing and letting us snack on the edges of the first one while we waited.

The second one was much crispier, and the flavor was on point.  I’m just not sold on this style of pizza as a meal.  I would think that a family would near half a dozen of these just to feel somewhat satiated; more like a snack or appetizer than main course.

The crust was so thin, without any beloved chewiness or bubbles, that it seemed nearly identical to the free pizzas given out with every drink purchase at the City Beer Hall in Albany.  Those are great for what they are; free pizzas.  I’m not super sold on Coal’s pizza as a meal, but rather a great option to have with a beer while catching up with a friend.

 

Juice Cleanse Day 1, Hiccup

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Review: This is so much better than Formula #1, and  so yum.  It doesn’t taste super sweet, or too much like grass.  It feels healthy though, light and refreshing. Great start to the day.

 

Juice #2 (Formula 4) Cucumber, Celery, Lemon, Ginger, Cayenne

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Review: NOPE.  This one was a nope.  It was like trying to drink a spicy salad that someone liquified.  Awful.  I love all things ginger (ginger chews, ginger kombucha) and I don’t mind the Cayenne/Lemon drinks, but this whole combination was just awful.  Seriously.  No.

Juice #3 (Formula 3): Apple, Pear, Pineapple, Mint, Wheat grass

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Review: I could drink this baby all day.  So much sweeter than Formula #2, but I totally get that its basically all fruit juice so that’s to be expected.

About ten minutes after finishing this one the nausea hit.  And the headache.  I figured this was all part of the mystical detox that people warn you about.  But then the lingering sore throat I’ve had for a few days ramped its vengeance up and attacked full force.  I felt dizzy and all around gross.  I figured I wasn’t going to get much done at work, so I visited my local walk in urgent care just to be on the safe side.

Diagnosis: Sinus infection.  The doctor specifically said, “Eat a ton of food with this medicine or you’ll regret it.” Jerk sinuses.  So I have no idea if my plague made me feel like butt, or the cleanse; what was helping and what was hurting will be a mystery.  But I didn’t want to just throw my positive choices out the window, especially with a beach trip coming up next week.

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So I ignored my fourth juice, ate some almonds while waiting at the doctor and then came home and fixed this simple salad up.  I was afraid that eating anything too heavy might be worse than eating nothing at all, so this seemed like a really safe compromise.

Shredded romaine, steamed sweet potato, avocado, pico de gallo.  I did have juice #5 (coconut water, pineapple, lime) with this, and some antibiotics.  Unfortunately, the doctor was right about regretting not eating a lot with the meds so I forced myself to eat a handful of Ritz crackers for dessert.

Today I’ve decided to stick with eating the best I can to help my body heal, and to work on improving my nutritional intake at the same time.  I know I need to focus on eating more whole foods, and limiting processed items, sugar, and snacks.

I started Juice Cleanse Day 2 with half a cup of oats, cooked with cashew butter.  Followed by my meds and a Formula #2 juice.  So far so good.

 

 

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week: Xaviers X20 on the Hudson

A long time friend suggested we try a Hudson Valley Restaurant Week dinner, and I eagerly perused the very long list of menus.  Historically, I think any restaurant week can be hit or miss, and reading the menus is the key factor in whether the experience will be something that will inspire you to return to a restaurant, or an experience where it’s obvious the kitchen isn’t even trying.

I narrowed it down to a few restaurants, and we eventually decided on Xaviers X20 on the Hudson.  There menu didn’t repeat all of its ingredients in every dish (i.e. shrimp salad, shrimp pasta or beet salad, chicken and beets) which to me always comes off like the restaurant is trying as little as possible.   [Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s a strong bias that I use as a helpful guideline for restaurant week]

To start, I hit a butt ton of traffic coming from the Bronx to Yonkers.  Thankfully, they offer valet parking right at the front entrance of the restaurant since I was hungry, and late for meeting my friend.  [Valet was $3 with validation from the restaurant]

The restaurant itself was really beautiful, all glass and right on the water.  Though it was nighttime and there wasn’t much of a view, there was still a very impressive feeling to the space.  The service was equally as impressive, although they could have used a few less people. I’ve never seen quite so many people working in one space; there was a man who took our drink order, another man who brought bread, another man that brought the food, another man who cleared the plates.  A lot going on, and it was sort of interesting to see an all male waitstaff, I’m curious if this was an intentional choice.

Restaurant Week Menu

Restaurant Week Menu

I wanted to treat myself to a cocktail after a day of work and traffic, and the Valley Cider Martini [Viskill Vodka, Warwick Cassis & Hudson Valley Apple Cider] was perfect.  It was full on cider, with an adult kick on the finish.  And I loved that they put it in this refined glass instead of the typical, wide martini glass.  This one felt special, but maybe I’m just a total weirdo.

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First course, I chose the Green Onion and Black Truffle Risotto.  So good, this was definitely my favorite course.  It was all cheesy, smooth, rich goodness.  I know sometimes in an upscale restaurant, or during restaurant week (or both in this case), the portions can be on the stingy side sometimes; honestly this was just enough that I wanted to lick the bowl but didn’t feel like I needed a nap somewhere in a dark corner.

Green Onion and Black Truffle Risotto

Green Onion and Black Truffle Risotto

I did think that little paper doily was a very strange touch in such a modern restaurant.  As I look back over the picture, I’m wondering what the thought behind that one was.

Catskill Mountains Brook Trout with Garlic & Lemon Crumbs

Catskill Mountains Brook Trout with Garlic & Lemon Crumbs

Main course, I chose the Catskill Mountains Brook Trout with Garlic and Lemon Crumbs, served with root vegetables & portobello hash, watercress & Ronny Brook Sauce. It had a great flavor, and I loved the crunchy “crumb” topping.  Honestly, I would have preferred less fish and more veggie. There was a few cubes under the mountain of fish, and it would have been a better textural and flavor contrast.

Pumpkin Pannacotta

Pumpkin Pannacotta

This pretty little dish was the Pumpkin Pannacotta [ Spiced Cake Vanilla Syrup & Amaretti Cookie]  Yum.  It was the perfect few spice/sweet bites to end the meal.

Satisfying dinner, and it genuinely made me want to go back and see what the regular menu has to offer.  The restaurant is known for being pricey, but now that I’ve seen the level of food and service, I think it could be worth it for a date night splurge or special event.

Bedtime Story

Some people read novels, magazines. E-readers.

I read cookbooks. And the Penzeys Spices catalogue.

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Cover to cover. With a pen to make notes.
I imagine what I could cook with each spice so perfectly described.

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My mouth waters at the taste of each written word. I swear even the catalog smells good.

When the store opened in Crossgates Mall, I felt like I was inhaling possibility. Potential casseroles, platters, creations.

With the recent packing in anticipation of moving, I tossed most spices from my pantry. I’m starting to appreciate the value of keeping fresher spices on hand. But Mister doesn’t necessarily think there is validity to this theory.

Am I imagining that spices have a shelf life, or is there really more flavor in the fresh jar of Apple Pie Spice?